Newbie writers often think of their editors as mean people intent on destroying their literary careers, but more experienced hands know this is not true. The goals of an editor are many, but her main task is gatekeeping. Her job is to ensure that only quality information and content -- clearly written -- makes it into print or to online websites.
Editors are gatekeepers because they control what gets published. The editor's goal is to let quality writing through the gate and to deny passage to writing that doesn't meet the publisher's specifications. Editors work with a style sheet that determines how the writing must be formatted, its voice and the style guidelines as they apply to punctuation, capitalization and usage. Examples of style guides are the Associated Press Stylebook, the Chicago Manual of Style and the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, the gold standard for academic publishers. Publishers designate the type of writing wanted for publication, online and off. The editor ensures that these specifications are met.
Another goal for editors is to help writers to eliminate typos and spelling errors. She also checks for correct punctuation, grammar and usage. While her goal is to ensure clean copy for print or online publication, she also provides feedback to the writer to prevent the same errors from being repeated.
Another goal for editors is to verify facts, because all information must be accurate for the written material to be credible. The publisher sets the standards for credible references attached to each piece of writing. For example, if you were writing an article on the NASA Mars rover, the editor will verify that the facts come from NASA or another authoritative government or academic source. She won't approve material that comes from some anonymous blog when factual, technical information is required.
The editor wants timely information to appear in a written piece. Together with the publisher, her goal is to produce copy that will be interesting, relevant and current. Meeting those needs is how publishers maintain and increase readership. If a written piece is not timely or current, the editor will send it back to the writer with feedback on how to better meet the audience's tastes and needs.
Even after a piece is published, a successful editor has one more goal -- to provide valid feedback to her writers. This may involve establishing a relationship where the editor helps the writer to improve his writing and the writer trusts the editor's insights. Many editors are also writers, but the successful editor doesn't just rewrite; she knows how to work within the writer's voice to elicit the best material possible for publication.
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